How to Win Elections

How to Win Elections

Introduction

Starting Point

Types of Election

Electoral Areas

Polling Districts

Pre-Campaign

Electoral Register

Manifesto

Registering as a Candidate

Campaign

Canvassers

Leaflets

Local Press

Press Release

Public Meetings

Online Campaigning

Eve of Election

Knock-Up Areas

Election Day

Number Tellers

Knocking-Up

The Count

Post Election Party

Post Election

Election Expenses

Summary

About The Author

Resources

Online Campaigning

This section comes with a health warning. This is the only page on this site where the content is based not on my experience but on what I would plan to do were I fighting an election campaign today. The Internet and its wide range of online tools was simply not around when I was campaigning. I wish it had been. So with that proviso, here we go.

Your Website.

Your website is more than just an online collection of your leaflets. It is your 24/7 accessibility to your electorate. The people who you can't get to during your canvassing can at least see what you're up to via your site.

Choosing a URL

If you've never bought a web site before the URL (Unique Resouce Locator) is the www.yoursite.org.uk bit. Your site name is very important as it has to be memorable and has to relate to your campaign. A simple www.YourName.com or www.KevinForMayor.org.uk should work best. Something like www.VoteForMe.com simply does not enhance your brand as it is not personal enough.

You need to be aware that people cannot just choose any domain they like; it may already be owned by someone else quite legitimately. Also commercial organisations have to use to .com or in the UK the .co.uk domains as the .org and .org.uk domains are restricted to non-commercial organisations. Fortunately, this can include your campaign as although you can raise funds through your web site you are not running it as a business. Search Engines tend to favour .org sites over .com sites in their search returns so if you have a particular URL in mind and the .org or .org.uk is available I would recommend you use that over the .com or .co.uk but if you do bear in mind its non-commercial status. Your could loose the site if it is deemed to be a business.

So you've picked your site name bought the rights to it and organised hosting, all you need now if content, right? Not quite. When you were looking for your site name you may have noticed that there was a lot of choice about the domain it could be part of. I recommended using the .org or .org.uk domain but you should not ignore the others. You should purchase those domains which could be used to spoof yours. This is known as defensive domain building. Basically if your opponents could use a domain with a very similar name to yours they can use it for satirical purposes and this is considered a legitimate use and there would be nothing you could do about it. Consider if this is likely and if so purchase the most likely domains that are available even if you aren't going to use them yourself. You can always set up a simple re-direct to the one URL you are using.

Content.

It's allright having a web site, the world and his brother has a web site these days, but what is on it and what does it do for your campaign. The first things is that it can act as a contact point for supporters so make such there is a form on it so that people can leave you their name, address and contact number. Secondly it can act as a way of telling people what you are doing on a daily basis and where they can contact you in person, a schedued diary or blog if you like. The other main use is as a resource for your election material. Put your manifesto on your site in an easily accessible format, put window posters on it as well so that your supporters can print them off and put them up themselves.

Most importantly, tell people what you're doing, let them know how to join your campaign, how they can help or contribute.

Other Online Tools.

Use the online social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter to keep in touch with your supporters and to let them feel that they are not alone in supporting you. These tools are becoming more popular and are very effective. A FaceBook group for instance can mean you don't have to host a discussion forum on your site and members can recruit other supporters for you through their FaceBook friends. Twitter can keep people updated on the progress of the campaign and can be used on Election Day to remind people to vote in conjunction with your knocking up.

FaceBook Groups

These work by organising people with a common interest together and allow for group organisers, called 'Admins' to publish information about the Group and also provide discussion spaces. Have a Group enables admins to email every member of the group. You can see how this would be useful.

There are two types of FaceBook Group relevant to elections. One would be a Public Group, where anyone can join and the content is viewable by non-members. The other is a 'Private' Group where membership is controlled either by invitation or by application.

In the context of an election campaign you may want to consider using both types of groups.

Public Groups would be for organising general support, notifying people about your campaign, publicising public meetings etc. All the activities that generate support. Your Group name could mirror your web site name. Groups can also hold files for the campaign including photos of events or campaign graphics. One thing some campaigns do is produce medium sized graphics for supporters to use as their FaceBook avatar in the run up to the election, a simple 'I'm Voting Smith on the 5th.' or 'Bob for Bromsgrove' seems to work well as these graphics sometimes appear very small. The graphics appear across FaceBook when your support using them carry out activities such as updating their status, even playing games can spread the message across their FaceBook friends who can be up to 5,000 in number, although most of those are likely to
live outside your constituency.

Private Groups would be for activists. These are people who are known to you personally. I don't want to make people paranoid but your Public Group is like to be joined by activists from other parties who just want to keep an eye on what you're doing. If this happens take it as a compliment as no one infiltrates a group they do not see as a threat. Having a Private Group will enable you to set up discussions about tactics, canvassing schedules, polling station rotas, concerns about how your campaign is going; all the things you might not want to discuss in public.

Blogs.

A blog of the campaign if hosted on say Blogger can feed a FaceBook status update. A number of candidates from all parties now blog regularly and it seems to be successful. Don't make it to Gung Ho, make more of a insight into your thought processes, experiences, hopes and fears for the electorate and don't give too much away as your opponents will be watching. If your opponents blog, have a read now and again at what they are saying.

Twitter

I've only recently been converted to using Twitter and it has proven itself to be invaluable. As a way of sending out a quick update, possibly with a link to a web page with more information to a lot of people who have subscribed to your tweets it can't be beat. Your followers can then, if they choose 're-Tweet' your tweet, meaning that it will appear in the feed of their followers, who may not be your own, thus expanding your audience. This can be both a positive and a negative to you campaign as a recent candidate in a Town Council election found when he proudly tweeted that he was going to win because his opponent had fewer followers on Twitter. Twitter doesn't like arrogance, the tweet went viral and his opponent had thousands of new followers within 24 hours. The acount for her campaign was new, hence the low number of followers at that time. He also went on to lose the election coming third, not only behind the person whose small number of followers he had mocked but behind another candidate whom he had said was just a 'paper candidate'.

What surprised methough, although it shouldn't have, was its usefullness as a networking tool, linking people with similar interests, through shared connections. Tweets can also contain linked graphics or video clips.

Replies to tweets can become long threaded conversations. Choose carefully which replies to engage wiith and which to ignore. Don't block people unless you think they are just time-wasting trolls, someone with a genuine criticiism of your position on an issue may have a point and may be open to dialogue if you show you are open minded as well.

Follow your opponents, if they don't block you just to see what they're up to, but try to refrain from twitter battles.

What I have found is that once you build up more than just a few contacts with shared interests Twitter becomes a news feed. During live events, and these can be anything from a demonstration to an episode of the X Factor, Twitter is more up to date than any of the news outlets. You can use this up to the minute feature to your advantage during campaigns to drum up support, organise events and report developments.

This http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2010/nov/19/alan-rusbridger-twitter is an excellent report by Alan Rusbridger, the editor of the Guardian on Twitter's strengths. It's written, as you would expect, from a journalists' perspective, but this can be easily applied to an election campaign.

Sending out a tweet with a link whenever you post an entry on your blog causes a spike in your page impressions and the main blog hosts have build this into their formats to make it easy for you.

On election day of course regular tweets can be sent out to your followers reminding them to vote. This should work in conjunction with your other Election Day activities and not replace them.

Was the 2010 election the start of the social media boom for Electioneering?

The start of a new era? In the 2010 election digital media (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube etc..) was used not only by candidates but by the mainstream media (including television) and the general public in scrutinising and responding to the campaign. Digital methods were widely used with particular use by the ‘wired’ generation (those who have grown up with smartphones, iPads and unlimited access to Broadband) . Targeted emails, text messages, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Audioboo, microsites, iPhone apps, viral campaigns, crowd-sourced adverts, and bloggers all featured. Did they influence the campaigns or even the result? The overall answer is probably NO, but they enlivened the debate and gave access to millions regarding politics and campaigns at a level unheard of in recent history. Did they influence voting intention? Again probably not, but it did polarise the supporters of the various factions.

The most exciting thing was not the use of digital media in isolation - it was how digital media became intertwined with more traditional streams. This created an integrated media, more powerful in its entirety than the individual parts.
Comments and trends from digital media fed newspaper and TV coverage, creating story leads and follow-ups. TV interviews were repeatedly watched online. The televised leaders’ debates spawned online digital debates. Media streams interacted and blended.

A multi-media election?

The campaign saw many prospective parliamentary candidates, would-be councillors and members of the mainstream media exploring digital media for the first time. They discovered the power and the limitations it brings. The well-aired concerns about using digital media are not unfounded, but alongside limitations are opportunities. The demographics on sites such as twitter are heavily weighted to those in the media and communications sectors and in politics but this in itself makes them a useful tool for influencing and accessing the mainstream media. Digital communication offers the chance to reach out to younger people who are far less responsive to traditional door drops – but increasingly to a wider group too.

The future? Or part of the future.

Alone, digital and social media cannot reach every group, overcome every hurdle, tackle apathy and restore faith in politics. Neither can any other media stream. It will not always be the right medium for a specific message or audience. But it does offer enormous opportunity. It is another weapon in the communication arsenal. It can be used alongside other media to introduce and reinforce messages, to engage citizens and reach out to more groups.

As such, it will continue to be a powerful force and one that local government will need to understand and use. Ignoring it is not an option, just as it would seem absurd to rule out using other streams such as the printed word or video. It would be a mistake to exclude digital and social media.

The 2010 elections taught us that although the web may not have won it for any one party in its own right, it is now a real, growing and, most importantly, trusted channel. To ignore its influence would be to miss important conversations and opportunities to engage the electorate in political debate.

The uses of social media Social media and its use as digital electioneering was obvious to anyone with an eye to Saturday night television where you could see the scheduled littered with programmes constantly asking for online votes, polls, texts and contributions – where outcomes are determined by the audience, not the organisers of the show.

Election time is always a good moment to pause and listen to the national conversation. Not only were the ‘big tools’ like Twitter, Facebook and YouTube being used by the parties to promote their big messages, but hundreds of councillors are now using social media as a day-to day straightforward communication tool. The elections have also seen the rise of citizen activism – websites that have sprung up to run campaigns on their own terms.

One thing which should be seen as very important in ‘local politics’, particularly for a ‘politics-averse’ town hall culture, is how the political parties themselves are embracing social media. Without doubt they can see the opportunity and advantage to ramping up their presence and reach online. They are using the web and technology to organise their local activists, to get supporters contributing time, money and resources through online networking. They are also holding debates and policy discussions on the web.

The point of all this is that national government is being influenced by many people now who are arguing for open, transparent and, crucially, more local approaches. Social media is one part of a much larger agenda including how to create public spaces for people to come together, debate, contribute and decide about issues collaboratively. This has to be in a way that makes sense to people who are already using the web for their shopping and socialising. This larger agenda of course goes also goes beyond ensuring online connectivity. For politicians and councils to engage with their communities – especially hard to reach groups where strongly rooted but inaccurate perceptions can have damaging effects – they need to be considering an underlying shift from communicating to residents to conversing with them, both on and offline.

Risks

The risk in not going down the social media/digital route is at best being left behind, at worst to be bypassed all together by those who have embraced the new era and from an electorate who have come to expect empowerment through technology.

This page is incomplete. I will add more but if you can think of anything let me know at contact@howtowinelections.co.uk .

Continue to Eve of Election....